SAN FRANCISCO — The Apple Watch is here at last — and the fashion retail world is getting firmly behind it.
The company unveiled details of the long-awaited — and much-hyped — smartwatch, its first new product since the release of the iPad five years ago and its first true fashion item, at a media event here Monday that also included a slew of other product announcements, apps and an update on retail growth in China. The mere revelation in the fall that Apple was planning to enter the category sent other watch brands scurrying to compete and could prove the catalyst that the yet-to-take-off wearables sector needs.
None of that will be clear until after April 10, when the watch is available for preorder. It begins shipping April 24 to select countries, including the U.S., U.K., France, Japan, Australia and Canada. While the initial frenzy over the device is likely to be immense, the question remains whether it will be seen as a tech product, a fashion one — or both.
“I’m not predicting [sales numbers] today, but I’m really confident,” Apple chief executive officer Tim Cook said as he walked past reporters out of the company’s demo area following the media presentation.
Apple Watch will be available to preview at Galeries Lafayette in Paris, Isetan in Tokyo and Selfridges in London on April 10. It is understood those doors will host shop-in-shops in high-visibility locations custom-designed to support high service quotients, with Selfridges putting the smartwatch in its Wonder Room, Isetan on its ground floor and Galeries Lafayette on its first floor amid European brands.
The size of the installations could not be learned, but are to incorporate bespoke tables that display the watches under glass with special lighting and animations. Sales specialists are to assist customers in discovering and trying on different models, also ensuring the setup so they are fully operational when they leave the shop.
“As a leader in style and fashion, Galeries Lafayette’s mission is to make each customer’s visit truly distinctive by offering our French and international clientele the freshest of innovations,” said Nicolas Houzé, the retailer’s chief executive officer.
In tandem with the April 24 launch, select specialty stores will sell individually chosen selections of the Apple Watch: Colette in Paris, Dover Street Market in London and Tokyo, Maxfield in Los Angeles and The Corner in Berlin. It is understood 10 Corso Como in Milan will also get the product at a later date.
In addition, Hong Kong-based specialty retailer Lane Crawford is to preview the Apple Watch in its personal shopping Platinum Suites from April 10 in Hong Kong, Shanghai, Beijing and Chengdu locations.
“The experience of shopping for an Apple Watch is a deeply personal one. The department stores and specialty stores that we’re working with are some of the best in the world at offering such experiences, so it was natural for us to see our product there,” said Paul Deneve, Apple’s vice president of special projects who joined the tech company after years helming fashion houses including Yves Saint Laurent, Lanvin and Nina Ricci. “Given the very focused distribution that we’ve pursued for this launch, every door that sells Apple Watch will provide a unique experience for every customer that walks in.”
Leveraging Deneve’s deep relations with international retailers, Apple started its charm offensive with the fashion community in September, when it unveiled the smartwatch at Colette, later hosting a dinner for retail, luxury and editorial elite at Azzedine Alaïa’s Marais headquarters.
Seeing its watch as a item for personal expression, and not only a piece of technology on the wrist, it was important for Apple to showcase it in high-profile stores known for fashion leadership.
As further proof that Apple wants the watch to have fashion cred, the company recruited an original supermodel — Christy Turlington Burns, once the face of Calvin Klein — to test it and speak about her experiences with it at Monday’s event.
Turlington Burns, who began training for the Virgin Money London Marathon, is chronicling her experience using the watch to prepare for the upcoming race in a blog on Apple’s Web site that will be updated weekly.
“Apple Watch is going to help me get there,” she told the crowd.
Having been waiting for almost as long as Godot, the actual unveiling of the watch caused barely a ripple on Wall Street. Apple shares closed Monday up 0.4 percent to $127.14, which still makes the company the world’s most valuable with a market capitalization of $740.56 billion.
Exhibiting its tech chops, the watch was built to perform a number of tricks, from reading and responding to text messages and taking calls, to a new feature called Digital Touch. The technology allows Apple watch wearers to connect their devices to one another so friends can grab each other’s attention with a screen tap or share a sketch.
The watch, which promises all-day battery life, also tracks fitness metrics, works with Apple Pay and can even unlock a hotel room, allowing users to bypass the registration desk.
A new workout app lets wearers track metrics, such as calories burned or distance traveled, as they exercise.
The fashion aspect is evident in its three styles: the Apple Sport Watch, starting at $349; the Apple Watch, starting at $549, and the Apple Watch Edition, starting at $10,000. Two face sizes are available, 38 millimeters and 42 millimeters.
The Sport case is made of anodized aluminum and comes in silver and space gray to be paired with a sport band, made in five colors.
The midpriced Apple Watch offers polished stainless or black stainless-steel cases and strap choices that include three leather offerings, stainless steel link, Milanese loop or a sport band in black or white.
Edition — with cases made from custom rose or yellow 18-karat gold alloys and a sapphire crystal display — pushes Apple and the smartwatch category into new territory as it melds technology, fashion and high-end luxury.
The watch, which has been at the center of media reports and speculation for some time now after being unveiled last year, is viewed as a barometer of consumer appetite for smartwatches and the broader wearables category.
Late last month, the ceo’s of three Swedish watchmakers met in San Francisco to reveal their own partnership with a recently formed joint venture, Geneva-based Manufacture Modules Technologies, to make smartwatches using MMT’s MotionX technology platform.
Ronnie Bernheim, ceo of Mondaine, one of the watch companies partnering with MMT, told WWD he was against an LCD-screen watch from the start and instead wanted to focus on a smartwatch that still looked like a timepiece and could be passed down from generation to generation. Ceo’s from the other two watchmakers involved in the partnership, Frederique Constant and Alpina, echoed that sentiment.
“We are in the watch business; we are not in the tech business,” Bernheim told WWD at the time. “It’s very subtle so you don’t destroy the fashion by overriding it with this technology.”
The success of Mondaine’s watches could open the door for the company’s affiliate Marlox Group to make smartwatches under fashion brands it holds licenses to, including Givenchy, Esprit and Puma.
Apple didn’t waiver in its watch’s ability to be a game changer.
“We continue to innovate; we continue to push forward,” Cook said.
The smartwatch unveil was the last in a bevy of announcements made by Cook and other Apple executives Monday.
The company is rapidly expanding its presence in China with a total of 21 stores — six of those having been opened in the last six weeks. Apple has plans to have 40 stores in China by mid-2016, according to Cook.
The company’s also looking to continue to make waves on the medical research front with software called ResearchKit, of which five apps have already been created and are now available. Those apps include mPower, which lets users take Parkinson’s disease-related tests on their iPhone that can then be sent to researchers. The actual software will be released next month.
A new MacBook, coming in at two pounds and 13.1 millimeters at its thickest point, begins shipping April 10 with a starting price of $1,299.